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Are the Rockefellers Right About Exxon?

Amid growing concerns about the world's supply of oil having reached an inflection point where it will no longer meet demand, the offspring of ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM  ) founder have taken it upon themselves to try to set the company's direction.

That founder was, of course, the famous -- at one point, infamous -- John D. Rockefeller. In the late 1800s, Rockefeller began putting together a cartel that became the Standard Oil Trust. Later, as we all learned in our middle school history classes, trust-busters split the company into what has evolved into 34 entities. In addition to Exxon, the offspring of Standard Oil includes the nation's second- and third-largest oil companies, Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) .

Uninvited help
Now, when ExxonMobil holds its annual meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, the company's shareholders will vote on four Rockefeller-sponsored resolutions that would affect the company's strategy. As The Wall Street Journal noted this weekend, while three of the measures "address concerns about global warming and renewable energy," the fourth -- and apparently most important to the family -- would result in the appointment of an independent chairman, to whom the company's CEO would report.

According to the Rockefellers -- who officially own 0.006% of Exxon's shares -- the splitting of the two positions would permit the chairman to be more involved in the company's direction, hopefully with an eye to increasing its involvement in renewable energy. They also believe that the independent chairman "might be more responsive to shareholder concerns."

Exxon's chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, responded that Exxon is a petroleum and petrochemical company. Beyond that, he says he thinks "we're the best one in the world, and our performance would tend to support that."

Who's best?
Obviously, Exxon is the world's biggest publicly owned oil company, topping its two abovementioned former siblings, along with such big European-based companies as Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  ) , BP (NYSE: BP  ) , and Total (NYSE: TOT  ) . Exxon’s revenue during the past 12 months topped $389 billion, and it managed to slide more than $42 billion of that amount to the bottom line.

But is Exxon the best? In the search for the somewhat elusive answer to that question, I looked at how the company stacks up relative to its U.S.-based peers on some key financial measures. As you can see, Exxon commands a premium valuation relative to its Standard Oil brethren, but with its superior profitability and a rock-solid balance sheet that merits a top-notch AAA credit rating, that premium is very well deserved.





Market Cap

$474 billion

$205 billion

$140 billion

Forward P/E


9.0 times

7.7 times

Operating Margin




Total Debt/Equity




Return on Equity




Source: CapitalIQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

What else matters?
As many Fools know, I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the world's energy situation. For that very reason, I'm high on the notion that we simply must replace oil and natural gas over time with effective alternative fuels. But more immediately, we have to find as much oil as possible in our quest to keep up with skyrocketing global demand. That's something Exxon does quite well.

As to the Rockefellers’ concerns over Exxon’s responsiveness to shareholders, I think the above chart makes an excellent case for its performance in that area. To my way of thinking, it'd be shameful to take management's eyes off the oil-finding ball in favor of involving the company in something that's not its stock in trade.

So I'm here to recommend that ExxonMobil shareholders appreciate the quality company with which they've become involved. And Fools who haven't built positions in the company might consider doing so, especially in light of the increasing demands of the world's search for oil and gas.

And as to the Rockefellers, we're all grateful for John D.'s contribution to today's energy scene, but current family members would be well-advised to stick to their knitting. 

For related Foolishness:

Total is a recommendation of the market-beating Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter. Find out more about the company, along with a host of other compelling ideas, with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2008, at 11:43 PM, prginww wrote:

    Abolition of King Coal and Coal-Fired Plants Everywhere - No Nukes! No Uranium Mining!

    See the truth about Rockefellers and King coal !

    Stop the Global Warming Machines!

    Stop the Coming Genocides - Food/Water/Energy Chaos!

    Divest from King coal

    Weekly Vigil - presently JUne 1, 2008

    Sundays Noon-1pm

    Ottawa, Ontario - Canada

    U.S. Embassy

    490 Sussex Dr.

    Paradigm Shift Environmental Alliance

    Please see the following links or google “abolition of coal”

  • Report this Comment On May 28, 2008, at 10:44 AM, prginww wrote:

    Recently there was a report from Jim Jubak on MSN money about XOM.

    In the report he claims that the company does not spend to much money or effort to find new oil compared to most other oil co's. Its one of the reasons their numbers look so good. Shareholders are quite happy too with the returns they get.

    XOM seems to prefer to buy back its shares rather than to spend money looking for expensive oil.

    The future will tell who's got it right


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